Many of Syria’s once bustling cities lie in ruins — a result of more than five and a half years of a civil war that’s killed approximately 290,000 people.
Places like Aleppo and Homs welcomed visitors from all over the world, before the war.
But fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad has torn those places apart. Syrian and Russian warplanes have bombed them into otherworldly shells.
There is one place, however, that has largely escaped the carnage seen elsewhere: Tartus, a Syrian government stronghold.
With war raging across the country, Syria’s tourism board has decided that now is a great time to visit the Mediterranean port city and has released a shiny new commercial to attract tourists.
Replete with terrible dance music, and aerial shots of beaches and jet skis skimming across the water, the video doesn’t appear much different from any other tourism marketing campaign.
But when you consider the destruction in the rest of Syria — in Homs, for one, just 60 miles east — it leaves a bitter taste. Promoting tourism when the country faces a slow-motion obliteration raises questions about priorities.
This isn’t the first time during the civil war that the Syrian government has attempted to attract people to Tartus. A $50 million project that involved building a shopping mall and other tourism-related investments drew the ire of even the government’s strongest supporters.
Tartus lies in Latakia province, an area overwhelmingly populated by members of the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. As such, the region has not been targeted by government airstrikes. Its housing of a Russian naval base makes it perhaps one of the most secure areas in the country.
It hasn’t escaped the war entirely, however. Forty-eight people were killed in a bomb attack in Tartus claimed by the Islamic State group in May. Another 100 were killed in the town of Jableh — a government-held town about an hour north of Tartus — on the same day.
In the interest of balance, here are a few aerial shots of some other Syrian cities.